Friday, July 10, 2015

The Rock

1996, US, directed by Michael Bay

Early period Bay: while he's already in full crank-up-the-bombast mode, the camera isn't quite as restless (reckless?), though I still recall the entire cinema trembling in the big set pieces, and that was just the music. Completely idiotic, sometimes very bloody, and admittedly rather fun.

Thursday, July 02, 2015

Passe ton bac d'abord

1978, France, directed by Maurice Pialat

A distinct change of pace for Pialat, something of a return to the sources of L'Enfance nue in geographical and sociological terms, and a move away from the deep focus treatment of relationships (familial and romantic) of the the immediately preceding films. Here, though, the narrative follows, in loose format, a group of teenagers as they attempt to navigate the end of school and the beginning of a new phase of life. Mired in France's economic and social woes in the post-1968 period, it's dispiriting stuff -- most of the kids are already accepting of a fate that radically limits their horizons (while remaining very self-aware), and even those who dream of escape have adapted themselves to the realities of precarious employment. There's also a profound sense of fraying bonds: even though the film focuses on a group, individual loyalties are constantly shifting and unreliable, with relationships taken up or dropped with little sense of purpose or commitment. One of the great challenges of the film is the lack of a truly defined protagonist, and yet Pialat makes of this a virtue -- there's a sense of collective experience that transcends individual anecdote, further reinforcing the sense that no-one can escape the fabric in which they've been living.

The Great Flamarion

1945, US, directed by Anthony Mann

You wonder what must have gone through von Stroheim's mind as he strutted his stuff in fare like this, but to give him his due he always seems fully invested no matter the circumstances and there are moments of genuine poignancy as his character, a stage shooting performer, realizes just how badly he's been had. There's a Double Indemnity vibe to it all, including the narrative, which is almost all in flashback, though the film can't match the cynicism of its predecessor. It's a very early entry in Mann's development as a filmmaker, too, and while there are a couple of nice set-pieces, especially the tense sequences when von Stroheim performs his routine, as well as the visually striking scene when he's interrupted during a practice session.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Strange Impersonation

1946, US, directed by Anthony Mann

The title is entirely apt for this borderline-insane plot that involves love rivals/disfigurement/assumed identities. More than once I had to mentally re-run the narrative twists and turns just to keep up -- especially because the pace is so brisk, as befits a picture under the Republic banner. Despite the complexities of the tale, Mann draws us in with just  a few brisk strokes, the narrative economy paralleling the overall low budget without seeming cheap, and he's clearly beginning to develop his distinctive visual style with this picture. Apart from one minor character who proved quite astonishingly irritating, my only reservation came with the film's big reveal, using a trick that popped up in several films in the mid-1940s.

Monday, June 29, 2015


1947, US, directed by Anthony Mann

I don't have near as much time to watch films as I'd like, so brisk films from the high point of the Hollywood era have a great deal of appeal in terms of their running length alone, though directors like Anthony Mann do a lot more than go through the motions. While his strengths are more formal and visual, especially in this period, he's also capable of extracting a solid performance when the material demands it. Dennis O'Keefe, for instance, is a lot more interesting here than in the following year's Raw Deal, playing what is in some senses a dual role as a straight and narrow government agent who goes undercover. As the film progresses, he has to convince both his criminal contacts and the audience that he's a capable and potentially ruthless operator. There's a real tension to the undercover sequences, and a fine appreciation of the personal sacrifices necessary in that line of work. And the photography is just wonderful -- my favourite shot, from a parade of possibilities, looks up at the bottom of a sink as O'Keefe tries to get a key item into his pocket while he's under close watch from his increasingly suspicious confederates.

Thursday, June 18, 2015


2011, France, directed by Céline Sciamma

This one had me from the opening shot, beautiful on both the visual and the emotional levels. Céline Sciamma got a good deal of attention this year with the US release of Bande de filles, and I hoped to see her back catalog from the beginning but couldn't find her début, La Naissance des pieuvres. This film focuses on a youngster dealing with gender identity issues, and Sciamma's method of treating the subject matter, focusing almost entirely on the child and with very little dialogue, is exceptionally effective and often strikingly funny/emotionally rich. 

I was also fascinated by her depiction of the relationship between the film's siblings, perhaps because I'm so affected by the growing evidence of a complicity between my children. Although the children have a good deal of latitude in this tale of summer, parents are nonetheless present and often very warm and involved, but this isn't a story from their perspective -- and nor is it, strictly speaking, a coming of age film with a neat developmental arc but rather an ongoing puzzling through, a snapshot in a longer process of self-discovery. 

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Summer With Monika

1953, Sweden, directed by Ingmar Bergman

Quite a surprise, mainly because I had misread the film schedule and thought I was sitting down to watch a film set in nineteenth-century Patagonia rather than one of Bergman's first major successes, although ultimately a pleasure to finally see one of them on the big screen. It's a (deliberately) straightforward film in many ways, but also one of striking insights -- the commentary on the relationship tensions created by parenthood is especially strong without being heavy-handed (it's not a theme that cinema has dealt with in great detail beyond the cliché) and the picture of Stockholm life in the 1950s across social classes is very finely observed (there are also several beguiling shots in the early going). 

The Man Who Never Was

1956, US, directed by Ronald Neame

More evidence that suggests Ronald Neame hasn't quite been given his due as a director, without by the same token attempting to elevate him to the pantheon. The film is a reasonably straightforward account of the Second World War Operation Mincemeat, which was designed to deceive Germany about Allied intentions in the Mediterranean. Although made with the blessing/collaboration of some of those involved a decade or so earlier, this isn't wholly faithful to reality, with some elements significantly altered or invented for dramatic purposes as well as out of a desire to preserve some of the secrets at the core of the story. Nonetheless, I found it quite engaging despite the distraction of Clifton Webb's accent -- he doesn't really make much of an attempt to sound like anything other than Clifton Webb, against the usual jolly-good-show backdrop (Gloria Grahame's accent, by contrast, can be explained away by plot mechanics). Neame shows considerable delicacy of touch at times, choosing to allow the camera to linger for extended periods during key scenes either to give us an idea of the methodical work involved in implementing a project of this sensitive nature or to allow particular moments of drama to play out without interruption; the technique gives the film a good deal of additional emotional heft. 

Monday, June 15, 2015

Tip Top

2013, France/Belgium, directed by Serge Bozon

As was the case in his previous feature, Serge Bozon brings together unexpected elements, marrying a criminal investigation with a loopy screwball vibe and a vein of political commentary. On this occasion I'm more guarded on his success, although these elements are not all actually in opposition to one another: since the balance is always off-kilter, he's not veering wildly from one tone to another though I'm still not sure the particular and quite consistent tone is wholly suited to the material. There's a vein of quite stringent political commentary -- on Franco-Algerian relations and interactions -- that gets a lost from view at times even though I think Bozon places a good deal of value on this, simply because the comic mode distracts although in the end his point may be more about the overarching context of politico-social absurdity (in the manner of, say, Bong Joon-ho's Memories of Murder). The plot involves Isabelle Huppert and Sandrine Kiberlain investigating the investigation ("la police des police") into the death of a police informer in Lille, though Bozon is at least as interested in the behaviour of his leads, each of whom has a distinctive sexual peccadillo, which is also a matter of narrative interest. Bozon certainly has Huppert and Kiberlain go through the wringer in the service of his film -- if I hadn't seen the earlier film, I might think he had a somewhat unhealthy desire to showcase his female stars in rather humiliating scenarios -- though Huppert is more than game for what she has to do, while Kiberlain's character is quite exquisitely uncomfortable at times. The offbeat tone of the film is often underline by Bozon's visual choices: he likes to play with the setup angles so that the eyeline match is off, a very disconcerting visual trick in one early interrogation scene that helps to destabilize the entire enterprise. He does the same in La France to equally good effect -- there emphasizing the untrustworthiness of a particular character. In both films, too, he does a fair amount of tableau framing -- especially for some of the musical sequences in the earlier film -- and he also has fun in the second film with scenes filmed in cars, where the backdrop doesn't quite match the action. It's certainly quite carefully thought through on the visual level even if the ideas are a bit muddled.


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Most of the images here are either studio publicity stills or screen captures I've made myself; if I've taken your image without giving you credit, please let me know.

About Me

Boston, Massachusetts, United States